Background context: The publication of several recent studies showing minimal benefit for radiofrequency (RF) lumbar zygapophysial (l-z) joint denervation have led many investigators to reevaluate selection criteria. One controversial explanation for these findings is that the most commonly used cutoff value for selecting patients for l-z (facet) joint RF denervation, greater than 50% pain relief after diagnostic blocks, is too low and hence responsible for the high failure rate.
Purpose: To compare l-z joint RF denervation success rates between the conventional greater than or equal to 50% pain relief threshold and the more stringently proposed greater than or equal to 80% cutoff for diagnostic medial branch blocks (MBB).
Study design/setting: Multicenter, retrospective clinical data analysis.
Patient sample: Two hundred and sixty-two patients with chronic low back pain who underwent l-z RF denervation at three pain clinics.
Outcome measures: Outcome measures were greater than 50% pain relief based on visual analog scale or numerical pain rating score after RF denervation persisting at least 6 months postprocedure, and global perceived effect (GPE), which considered pain relief, satisfaction and functional improvement.
Methods: Data were garnered at three centers on 262 patients who underwent l-z RF denervation after obtaining greater than or equal to 50% pain relief after diagnostic MBB. Subjects were separated into those who received partial (greater than or equal to 50% but less than 80%) and near-complete (greater than or equal to 80%) pain relief from the MBB. Outcomes between groups were compared with multivariate analysis after controlling for 14 demographic and clinical variables.
Results: One hundred and forty-five patients obtained greater than or equal to 50% but less than 80% pain relief after diagnostic MBB, and 117 patients obtained greater than or equal to 80% relief. In the greater than or equal to 50% group, success rates were 52% and 67% based on pain relief and GPE, respectively. Among patients who experienced greater than 80% relief from diagnostic blocks, 56% obtained greater than or equal to 50% relief from RF denervation and 66% had a positive GPE.
Conclusions: Using more stringent pain relief criteria when selecting patients for l-z joint RF denervation is unlikely to improve success rates, and may lead to misdiagnosis and withholding a potentially valuable treatment from good candidates.